Angling on the Asphalt
Angling on the Asphalt
A humorous look at the complex relationship between anglers and the automobile
Casting a fly line is a fairly simple act: Prior to delivering a forward cast, we make a backcast. Then, when we've got a nicely straightened fly line behind us, we use that momentum to project the line out in front of us. Axiomatically, it's fair to say that a good backcast makes for a good forward cast-that is, unless something interferes with the backcasted fly line as it streaks through the air behind the angler… Once upon a time, all we had to worry about in the way of casting interference came from trees and bushes.OK, maybe a horse or cow occasionally got in the way. Then people-including anglers-began traveling around in motor vehicles and, in order to accommodate the growth of motorized transportation, increasing numbers of roads and highways were built alongside streams, rivers and lakes where anglers indulge their passion. Although, this meant that anglers could reach more fishing spots than ever before, the blessing has been a decidedly mixed one. Following are four true tales of some unexpected interactions between anglers and the automobile: An editor friend and I were fishing in the Everglades, 100 miles west of Miami. Snook were cornering baitfish against the shoreline of a featureless roadside canal. In order to get strikes, we had to lift 40 feet of fly line off the water before dropping our flies within a foot or two of the opposite bank. If we false casted excessively, we'd spook the fish. Too much fly line out however, and we couldn't lift it and our flies off the water. My companion happened to be one of those gifted neophytes who could squeeze passable forward casts from truly terrible backward lobs. However unconventional his methods, on that day they were working well enough that I released a half-dozen respectable snook he had caught. But while I was concentrating on releasing the last one, I was startled by an unearthly scream. When I looked over, I saw that the sound was coming from my friend's reel. The blurred spool and smoking drag were my first clues that it wasn't a snook he'd hooked into, and I stood transfixed as I watched his expensive fly line and several hundred yards of backing rapidly disappearing into the wake of a speeding Winnebago. Tough luck, I thought as I burst out laughing. Then I remembered that I'd loaned him my reel. I was fishing with another friend alongside a similar canal. Although this fellow's a tough, no-nonsense former commercial fisherman, he owns a fly shop specializing in fine tackle. Whenever anything new appears on the market, he insists on giving it a try. That day he'd brought along one of the original lever-drag fly reels. As far as I could tell, he liked the way it handled, at least fresh from the box. While we cast, traffic hurriedly buzzed by on a highway that was originally built to connect Florida's Gold Coast with the commerce of the Gulf. In spite of the mid-morning rush that made our surroundings appear more like a truck stop than a salt marsh, snook continued popping against the opposite shore. Although the lines of traffic would sometimes continue unbroken for several minutes, if we timed our backcasts properly, we could drop our flies ahead of feeding fish. This situation was tailor-made for my companion, who's a quick and precise caster. As time passed the rhythm of his casting became hypnotic to me. My eyes were growing heavy and sounds around me were melting into a pleasant buzz. Then suddenly I heard it again…the agonized scream of a machine pushed far beyond its limits. I snapped awake and found that my companion had snagged a house trailer that was tooling hell-bent for Homestead, 100 miles away. A few seconds of panic were followed by the inevitable long-distance release that took place several hundred yards down the tarmac. My friend's reel had literally become too hot to hold, and he dropped his rig to avoid being burned. There was a smell in the air that reminded me of burning tires. This time nobody was laughing. In fact, tension continued to mount for several minutes while we waited to assess the damage. Our worst fears were confirmed when at last my pal was able to pick up his reel and pry off the spool. When he finally got a look at the melted innards, he released a flood of curses, the shortest of which may have been the most poignant. "It's fried," he sputtered while clenching the reel in his fist. I didn't know quite what to say, but hoping for salvation in humor, I asked if he knew what STH really stood for. My companion glowered while refusing to respond. "Stop That House trailer," I whispered, biting my lip. Sometimes the stories aren't that funny. I remember taking out a high school principal from New York and his teenage son. As I'd anticipated, the day started out slowly, with only a few cichlids to interrupt the boredom that I hoped would dissipate if the snook arrived. What I didn't plan on was witnessing the ultimate conflict between Man and Machine. Around three that afternoon, our prospects finally brightened as snook started feeding against the far shoreline. The fish maintained a safe distance, but I'd brought along my canoe. However, since I only had room for one angler at a time, I ushered the son aboard while leaving his more experienced Dad to continue casting from the bank. I should first explain that prior to their trip, Dad had worked with his son in the high school wood shop to construct a custom-built fly rod. What they created was a graphite beauty, replete with nickel-silver reel seat and expensive fittings. After they finished, as a final accessory Dad purchased an expensive bar-stock fly reel. When canoe fishing, I periodically alternate anglers to give everyone a chance to fish. I'd already helped Junior ashore and was ready to pick up Dad. Dad, however, insisted on that "one last cast" from the bank and aimed a real boomer at a breaking snook. He might have reached it too, had the backcast not been just long enough to catch the antenna of a passing truck. The resulting "hit" was explosive-so much so that the impact somehow managed to disconnect the spool from the reel's anti-reverse mechanism, which in turn threw everything into free spool.Things quickly got worse. After whirring away for a few moments, the reel's innards began to make an angry grinding sound. Since the initial impact had already loosened the reel from its nickel restraints, it yo-yoed recariously like a berserk child's toy. When it finally froze, it jerked upward with more than enough force to rip away the stripper and several snake guides before the backing parted with a sound like a rifle shot. The reel continued skyward in what could best be described as a final, ballistic salute to the passing truck. While I watched, it managed to clear a string of nearby power lines in its unchecked parabola before finally coming to rest 100 feet down the road. The three of us slowly recovered from our shock and wandered over to have a look at it. The reel had been a rim-control model. Now the spool was folded over the frame as neatly as the sheet corners on a hospital bed. Scuffed and discolored from the heat, it lay seized in a rictus of molten grease. The rod had been brutalized too; although the actual blank appeared to have escaped breakage, I questioned the wisdom of ever rebuilding it. My customers were beyond condolences. In any case, there wasn't much I could say. It was in Yellowstone Park however, that I heard the best one of all. Snow was falling in late August when I struck up a conversation with the second-to-last fisherman to leave Buffalo Ford. Although he'd arrived out West unprepared for the unseasonable cold, he seemed unfazed by it. Only when he told me that he worked as a paramedic in Milwaukee did I begin to understand. He was such a rugged guy that I was surprised to see that he drove a shiny, two-seater sports car rather than something more emblematic of the Great Outdoors. On this note however, the story begins: He'd begun his Western trip on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park, but no sooner did he start fishing than park officials decided to close the park because of the cold. He was forced to choose another angling destination, so he decided to head for Yellowstone, about 100 miles away. Several hundred other vacationers were fleeing the Grand Tetons at the same time, and traveling on snow-covered roads proved to be agonizingly slow. To further complicate matters, herds of elk and mule deer coming down from the high meadows forced park rangers to re-direct traffic while the huge animals crossed the road. It was during one such slowdown that a remarkable incident took place. To set the stage, it turns out my companion was an avowed indicator fisherman. Stated simply, his fly-fishing usually consisted of drifting a weighted nymph beneath a makeshift "bobber" fashioned from a short piece of colored yarn. Yarn indicators are puffy and round, and from a distance, arguably resemble berries or fruit. When a trout (or a steelhead back home in Wisconsin) takes the fly, the indicator submerges. That's normally all there is to it. After the rangers in Grand Teton ushered him from the river, he had tossed his fully rigged fly rod directly through the open window of his convertible Corvette. Since he wasn't bothered by the cold, he left the window down with the rod hanging out of it, and he headed out for Yellowstone. He'd be ready to fish as soon as he reached the river. Snow was falling heavily by the time he arrived at the first roadblock. He and the occupants of a dozen other cars waited as a procession of mule deer crossed the road. He was watching the animals pass when suddenly he noticed that his fly rod was gone. Seconds later he spotted it heading up the slope, towed by a mulie. It didn't take him long to figure out that one of the mule deer had spied the yarn indicator, mistaken the colorful tuft for a snack and, after grabbing it, pulled rod and reel from the open window. With a dozen motors running, the angler hadn't heard a thing. My companion was out of the car in a heartbeat. Ignoring the angry shouts of the park rangers, he chased the frightened animal until it eventually dropped the yarn "berry," along with the purloined rod and reel. Then, after returning to his car he carefully disassembled the rod, stashed it in its case, and firmly closed the window. Steve Kantner is a former Florida fishing guide. His last piece for FR&R was 'The Lady Is Back,' in April, 2003.